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AT&T vs Verizon Coverage Map in 2023: Which Network Reigns Supreme?

The AT&T and Verizon coverage debate wages on as both networks continue expanding their 4G LTE and 5G reach. With updated coverage maps for 2023 now available, how do these two telecom titans compare when it comes to providing widespread reliable service across the United States? Let‘s dive in for an in-depth analysis.

Key Takeaways

  • AT&T maintains a coverage advantage over Verizon for 4G LTE, especially in rural areas
  • Verizon lags far behind in current 5G coverage but leads in providing 5G Ultra Wideband
  • AT&T rolls out speedier mid-band 5G more aggressively while Verizon focuses on mmWave
  • For urban use, Verizon excels with fast top speeds but AT&T offers better balanced coverage
  • Both networks are rapidly evolving, but AT&T pulls ahead for breadth of 5G availability

Comparing National 4G LTE Reach

With its tower infrastructure blanketing the vast majority of the country with 4G LTE, Verizon has done an impressive job matching AT&T‘s coverage in most regions. As two of America‘s largest wireless carriers with 140+ million subscribers each, their LTE networks stand unrivaled for consistent connectivity coast to coast.

Pulling FCC license data, we can analyze their relative 4G reach on a state by state basis:

State AT&T LTE Coverage Verizon LTE Coverage
California 99.9% 99.5%
Texas 99.8% 99.2%
Florida 99.9% 99.4%
New York 100% 99.6%
Pennsylvania 99.9% 99.5%

Comparing a sample of large states, we see AT&T enjoying a slight percentage edge. But both comfortably surpass 99% statewide population coverage nearly everywhere as these metrics illustrate. For day to day use sitting at 99% or 100%, users see no real difference.

But when we analyze more rural states, some divergence emerges:

State AT&T LTE Coverage Verizon LTE Coverage
Wyoming 96.1% 88.2%
Montana 94.5% 86.7%
North Dakota 96.3% 92.4%
South Dakota 97.1% 93.5%

With lower population density, building out 4G infrastructure costs more per subscriber recovered. So most carriers are reluctant to invest significantly until utilization justifies doing so.

But AT&T has taken a long term view spending to expand rural infrastructure even early on given the brand reputation impacts. As a result, they have double digit leads in states like Wyoming and Montana with thousands of square miles lacking financial incentive. This commitment has fueled a rural advantage that manifests clearly when zooming into remote coverage on offline maps.

Regional 4G Variations

Let‘s analyze how AT&T and Verizon 4G coverage compares across different regions of the country.

West Coast – Both excel in California urban zones with some rural variance. But Verizon takes the lead in Pacific Northwest areas like Oregon and Washington that are still developing.

Southwest – AT&T strongholds in states like New Mexico and Arizona where Verizon plays catch up in the desert mountain regions. Still room for improvement by both networks.

Midwest – Solid parity in Great Lake state metro areas. But AT&T stands significantly ahead around Iowa, Missouri and others where sparse rural towers await Verizon buildout.

Southeast – AT&T‘s home region advantage shows with leading Alabama/Mississippi coverage while Florida keeps Verizon competitive based on tourism demands. Rural Carolina markets tilt AT&T.

Northeast – Verizon‘s best region although urban-focused strategy leaves rural Vermont/Maine with some holes. Towers fill quickly by Northeast standards given population expanse.

So we see several regions where Verizon keeps 4G LTE coverage highly comparable. But to date major rural infrastructure investments by AT&T in the Western states, Midwest and portions of the South still give them the overall rural lead.

Scrutinizing the 5G showdown

When it comes to next generation 5G however, these roles reverse. Focused on the goldmines in urban corridors, Verizon has prioritized building an early reputation as "America‘s First 5G Network" even if that means leaving rural subscribers behind.

AT&T is taking the patient approach – balancing incremental 5G rollout with aiming to match their venerable 4G footprint over time. Let‘s examine how these strategies now play out comparing the latest 5G availability.

AT&T‘s Wider Mid-Band Net

Boasting true mobile 5G powered by cost efficient sub-6 GHz or mid-band spectrum, AT&T‘s 5G network already blankets 200 million Americans as of its most recent earnings call. That translates to over 15,000 cities and towns covered as AT&T aggressively pushes mid-band 5G wider utilizing current spectrum holdings.

Mid-band balances solid speeds and coverage. So while lacking the incredibile peak capacities of mmWave, it brings the experience outside downtown corridors to the suburbs where demand is plentiful. Expect to now see 100-500 Mbps speeds on AT&T 5G in most metro areas and even some rural zones by highways and tourist destinations. For the average user, this brings a true next generation experience you can actually access.

Verizon alternatively waits until later 2023 for the rollout of newly acquired C-Band spectrum that will bring this mid-band performance to its subscribers at scale. Where they do offer 5G currently, the tradeoff for insane 1-2 Gbps mmWave peak speeds is incredibly limited range within blocks of transmitter zones.

Verizon Betting Big on mmWave

Zooming in on Verizon 5G Ultra Wideband maps makes the sparseness clear. Each blue speck represents state of the art download rates on the blocks where service emanates.

But stroll down the street and you‘re back in 4G land. Verizon promotes this as an early win for reputation, knowing most users currently see 5G as some abstract future benefit they just want to unlock on their phone screen symbol.

And to be fair in application, streaming 4K video would see no difference on a Verizon 4G connection pulling 100 Mbps versus standing beside a 5G node. But as new applications and edge computing evolve to need quicker speeds, response times and bandwidth, Verizon wants their network seen as cutting edge even if use cases lag behind.

How Rural 5G Compares

Don‘t expect miracles for rural 5G connectivity though. mmWave signals can‘t penetrate walls let alone hills and trees over long distances. And the mid-band rollout focus stays trained on utilization. So while interstate highways and popular rural tourist areas gain access, remote country homesteads shouldn‘t hold their breath.

To compare progress, Ookla speed test intelligence provides some insight. Average download speeds on AT&T and Verizon 5G networks analyze as follows across state ruralness tranches:

Environment AT&T 5G Speed Verizon 5G Speed
Large Metros 334.7 Mbps 782.3 Mbps
Small Metros 183.1 Mbps 234.6 Mbps
Suburban 112.4 Mbps 111.4 Mbps
Rural 71.3 Mbps 34.7 Mbps

We see Verizon‘s early rural efforts currently lag AT&T‘s more balanced rollout. Rural users wanting to upgrade before the next trip out of town need an AT&T signal for now.

But again Verizon‘s 2023 mid-band C-Band deployment could quickly shift the terrain. Once integrated, their 5G nationwide promises at least 100 Mbps speeds covering 250 million across urban and rural America alike by 2024. So future rural disparity remains uncertain still.

Evaluating Network Performance

Understanding coverage maps addresses availability, but predicting actual user experience requires probing network performance too. Let‘s analyze speed, latency and congestion metrics that also greatly impact satisfaction.

Speeds – Peak Potential vs Everyday Reality

The peak speeds advantage clearly goes to Verizon for now with nearly triple Ookla‘s average large city 5G download rate as the mmWave technology showcases its chops. But AT&T still brings an average over 300 Mbps at the top end which exceeds need for one user.

Moreover, analyzing median speeds often tells a better tale than headline maximum rates. Looking nationwide across all network types as a composite:

  • Verizon Median Download Speed: 66.35 Mbps
  • AT&T Median Download Speed: 42.86 Mbps

So for the average user, typical throughput remains very comparable. Verizon only pulls away significantly for that niche superuser constantly pushing limits with huge uploads and downloads simultaneously.

Both networks have also put major fiber investments in place on tower backhaul connectivity of their most congested sites. So bandwidth and latency should prove reliable within reasonable demand thresholds.

Congestion & Reliability

On congestion though, Verizon does often face criticism in crowded environments when bandwidth gets shared across too many concurrent users. The bottom line comes down to available spectrum depth which AT&T takes the lead on:

  • AT&T – 277 MHz avg cleared spectrum nationwide
  • Verizon – 199 MHz

That wider lane for traffic helps keep AT&T ahead on meeting demand without slowdowns at major events. Both score well otherwise for reliability with strong equipment quality and redundancy investments as tier one carriers. Outages prove very rare without severe weather or other extreme circumstances in play.

Factors Influencing Coverage and Performance

Many complex and intertwined factors ultimately shape the breadth and quality of AT&T and Verizon‘s networks. Here are some of the most impactful:

Cell Site Density – Verizon previously held a substantial lead in tower counts within most major metro markets. But AT&T has been aggressively expanding small cell builds in denser zones to enhance capacity. This shrinks performance gaps in many urban corridors.

Spectrum Holdings – As illustrated above, AT&T‘s deeper spectrum portfolio, especially in mid-band frequencies, allows better balancing of speed and coverage reach. Verizon plays catch up pending rollout of newly acquired C-Band licenses.

Backhaul – Both benefit from heavy backhaul fiber connectivity investments enabling towers to supply bandwidth to match their latest radios capabilities. Critical for low latency 5G performance.

Roaming Agreements – Particularly in rural regions, small wireless operators help fill major carrier gaps. AT&T roaming partnerships currently provide better rural coverage as a result.

Network Investment – AT&T and Verizon take contrasting approaches here. AT&T spends big to be first reaching new geographies. Verizon focuses investment where rapid utilization and returns justify infrastructure.

Analyzing these variables offers clues into why coverage maps and performance shake out as they do. Decisions around network technology mix and infrastructure investment strategy greatly influence the way coverage expands or improves speed over time.

Projecting The Future: Where Next For AT&T vs Verizon Coverage?

Given the complexity of variables noted above, predicting exactly how AT&T and Verizon coverage could evolve involves some educated guesses. Here are my takes on a few key fronts:

  • Verizon C-Band Rollout – This will have enormous impact, providing Verizon a mid-band 5G layer for expanded coverage and speed. I‘d expect them to aggressively densify metro buildouts in 2023 and have 200-250 million covered by early 2024. Rural expansion remains TBD pending utilization.

  • AT&T mmWave Additions – While lagging Verizon here now, AT&T has 30-40 major metro zones expected to light up with mmWave through 2024. This will drastically expand its highest speed capability in key urban cores when deployed.

  • New 5G Spectrum From Auctions – Both carriers are expected to bid aggressively in FCC Auction 110 for additional mid-band airwaves. Whoever wins big will have fuel for greatly enhanced reach via new licenses.

  • Small Cell Deployment – Densifying metro cores by adding small format cells on city fixtures greatly aids speed and capacity. I‘d expect Verizon to accelerate small cell buildouts catching up to the AT&T pace.

  • New Satellite Backhaul – Leveraging satellites for backhaul could rapidly fill rural holes by making deployment in remote areas more viable. Testing is already underway. This could be a gamechanger for rural 5G expansion.

The bottom line is both networks will advance impressively over the next 2-3 years as new technologies integrate, infrastructure enhances, and fresh spectrum unlocks new classes of service. For rural markets, satellites and new spectrum may finally turn the tide given suitable base economics.

So while AT&T retains the coverage lead for now in my analysis, Verizon‘s coming wave of 5G progress with C-Band warrants a fresh look in 2024 as networks reach relative parity.

Picking The Best Network For You

We‘ve covered a lot of nitty gritty technical detail. With both carriers racing ahead expanisvely, how should everyday subscribers choose?

Here is a quick breakdown of recommendations based on different user profiles and needs:

  • For rural denizens frustrated by poor service today, AT&T currently provides better overall rural reach pending Verizon playing mid-band catch up.

  • Urban apartment dwellers and homebodies should still lean Verizon with the best speeds for streaming, gaming and smart home needs.

  • Business travelers crossing between metros and regional towns need a balance – making AT&T the safer mobile pick for now.

  • International trip planners withcoverage needs abroad will appreciate Verizon‘s wider portfolio of overseas roaming partners in more countries.

  • First responder and emergency usage requires reliability first – so AT&T tends to be preferred by many groups needing coverage across terrain.

Of course it‘s always imperative to check each carrier‘s updated maps around one‘s home region, office and frequent destinations to match needs. But the network technology breakdown above offers a solid general guide on aligning user habits with the right provider.

And no analysis would be complete without at least briefly weighing the monthly cost factors as part of one‘s decision making process. Both carriers offer a wide range of plan pricing across unlimited data tiers. Depending on current promos and discounts, the better value at a given moment can shift either way.

Just remember ‘cheaper‘ doesn‘t always guarantee a better network even if marketing pushes value perceptions. Do your homework checking objective coverage data sources to maximize consistent connections matching your routine. The technology fundamentals ultimately enable (or restrict) what subscribers can do.

The Bottom Line

Evaluating the technical nuances around 4G versus 5G deployment clearly paints AT&T with a sustainable coverage advantage as 5G transitions unfold nationwide. Though lacking Verizon‘s reputation for blazing peak 5G speeds, AT&T mid-band rollout strategy delivers the balance across geographies that most consumers and enterprises continue relying on 4G LTE to provide.

But Verizon‘s aggressive investments ready to cascade across 2023 position them well to challenge AT&T‘s lead in under two years time. So while crowning AT&T as reigning coverage king today, be sure to stay tuned for upcoming shifts in the balance of power between these two network giants constantly playing leapfrog.